Smaller Steps Make for Faster Progress: Splitting for Yourself

Last week we talked about the concept of “splitting” (breaking larger steps or behaviors into smaller steps) and how it will improve your training with your pet. But I’ll clue you into a secret: the rules of behavior science apply to all species. That means that we can take the concept of splitting and apply it to our own learning as well! Those of you working with a dog trainer or behavior consultant (or physical therapist, occupational therapist, etc.) might notice your professional doing this for you already. It usually looks like:

“Start with this step and then we’ll add to it in our next session.”

It’s not that your professional is looking to draw out the training process or for more money by adding sessions, it’s that they know that splitting enhances learning for all species. In other words, they know you’ll be more successful this way. It’s easier to focus on one thing at a time until you become proficient at that, then add a second activity, then the third, and so on. Otherwise, you’ll likely find yourself overwhelmed, unsure of what to work on, and ultimately giving up. 

How can I split my own learning process?

It’s one thing for a trained professional to break down the steps for you and guide you through the process they’ve devoted their life to and it’s a completely different thing for you to do this for yourself. If you’re like me, you want to do or learn a bunch of things all at once and be proficient at them tomorrow. We all want things right now and unfortunately learning to proficiency just doesn’t happen that way. But here are some steps to help you split your own learning process to make it both more efficient and less overwhelming:

  1. Choose one thing to focus on at a time. That might be one thing today and another tomorrow but you’ll make more progress focusing your effort on just one skill, activity, or goal. Choose something that will be easier but also impactful. 
  2. Find someone (or several someones) who’s done what you want to do and learn from them. You may be saying, “Allie, what gives? You’re supposed to be giving me tips on how I can do this by myself.” Yes, that’s true, but let’s be real: you likely aren’t going to even know the steps to take to learn a brand new skill. This doesn’t necessarily mean you need to hire a professional. Blogs, podcasts, videos, and interviews are a great way to learn from someone who’s been there and done that. It’s also nice to do this step early in the process so that you can decide if you really do need to hire a professional sooner rather than later. 
  3. Write out a few steps that you know need to happen based off of your research in Step 2. Again, narrow your focus down to just one of these items.  
  4. Zoom in on that step. What are the tools, skills, and resources you need to complete that one item? Write all that out. Research more if necessary!
  5. Looking at your list, what is the one thing that you can do right now with the skills and resources you have? There’s always at least one thing that won’t take too long. 
  6. Congratulate yourself for taking the first step! Choose another easy one. Continue until you run out of steps that you can do right away with the skills and resources you have. 
  7. Choose another step that requires something you don’t have: tools, resources, skills. Get what you need to complete that step and then do it! Continue until your list is done. 

After going through that process a couple of times a lot of people decide that it would be easier for a professional to split the learning process for them. That’s true and okay to decide! That’s what we’re here for: to track your progress and dole out learning in bite-size pieces for you. But know that you can always ask to split your steps further or take the above steps to do it yourself. You’ll be on your way to more proficient learning in no time!

Now what?

  • Choose something that you want to learn and start the above process!
  • Reach out for help when you get stuck. It’s okay to ask for help when you need it!
  • Have fun! Find ways to incentivize your learning so that you stick with it. 

Happy training!